Elections 2022: Why the Opposition narrative fails to shift beyond BJP’s failures

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October 31, 2021 3:59 PM

The Congress is struggling with its own quandary, its narrative for the polls is, yet again, focussed solely around criticism of the NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

File photo of Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi along with Mayawati and Mamata Banerjee

The BJP-led NDA’s thumping victory in 2014 riding on the ‘Modi wave’ is seen as a watershed moment in the history of Indian politics. Not only was this the first time that the Bharatiya Janata party had been able to establish itself as a power in its own, the party was successfully able to project it as a victory of over 1.2 billion Indians. The perception of the government, and Narendra Modi as its leader, was such that the after-effects of the Lok Sabha elections outcome continued to spill over into elections in states like Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, MP, Chhattisgarh, Assam and others as a saffron tsunami swept across most of the nation.

Modi was clearly winning the perception battle. And it was evidently clear that the ‘Modi vs All’ was only contributing to the rise of the Modi phenomenon. The more personal the attacks by the Opposition against Modi, the more he appeared to benefit from it. Years down the line, one would assume that the Opposition would have learnt its lessons, particularly after the outcome of the 2019 elections. 

But as elections approach in five states that could potentially set the tone for the Lok Sabha elections in 2024, the Opposition appears as splintered as before. The Congress is struggling with its own quandary, its narrative for the polls is, yet again, focussed solely around criticism of the NDA government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

‘I, me, myself syndrome’

So, why has the Opposition, and specifically the Congress, lagged in turning the tables, despite all these years seeing a range of issues like the pandemic, GST, demonetisation, fuel price hike and the alleged increasing unemployment and economic downfall to name a few? Is it lack of understanding on part of the Congress and other Opposition parties? Or is the problem deeper?

“What we are seeing is a case of I, me, myself syndrome under Mr Modi. So, the opposition has no other option; even if it criticises the government, people will say ‘Modi ko ye bola’ (they said this against Modi). The BJP’s spin doctors turn a general criticism of the government policies into a personal attack on Mr Modi and the country,” author and journalist Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay told FinancialExpress.com. Mukhopadhyay, who has tracked Modi for years, says that these personalised attacks are a result of “Mr Modi consciously moving towards personalisation of the government” which has eventually left the Opposition with no other option.

Narender Kumar, Political Science professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, believes that there is nothing abnormal in the Opposition’s narrative revolving around the functioning and failures of the government.

“For the Opposition, it is not possible to set a narrative without taking into account the ruling party’s failures because unless you highlight the government’s demerits, you will not be able to present your point of view. By and large, in democracy, the Opposition’s narrative depends on how the ruling party is responding to the issues,” Kumar told FinancialExpress.com. 

He, however, concedes that the Opposition has been unable to target the ruling party on the right issues. “It is not able to address the major issues the way should be done. One can also say that the ruling party has taken full control of the communication avenues because of which, an Opposition party fails to get success even if it comes up with constructive criticism” he said. 

Experts point out that the Opposition has three major duties – one is to highlight the ruling party’s shortcomings. The second is to provide an alternative, and the third is to cooperate with the government when it is doing a good job and not just oppose it for the sake of opposing. Political commentator Amitabh Tiwari believes that since the Congress has never been in the opposition for a long period, it doesn’t know how to act like one. 

It has been unable to highlight the failures of the government in an effective manner. “For instance, the Congress said that the decision of demonetisation or the economic policies of the government were wrong, but it did not tell what the government should do right, or what they would have done if they were in power. So, that is missing – providing an alternative,” he said. 

Not discounting our successes: Congress

But the Congress contends that it has not only kept its narrative around the alleged failures of the Modi government, but has also been highlighting its success stories on accounts, where it claims the current dispensation has failed. “In the last seven years, there has been one failure after another by the BJP and this cannot be forgotten. We need to remind the people that this happens when an incompetent government is ruling. This cannot be the forgotten narrative,” Congress spokesperson Anshul Avijit told FinancialExpress.com.

“During the UPA rule, apart from economic growth, social justice, gender equity, we did an unprecedented amount on every single front. So, we are not discounting our successes at all. We are reminding the people that this is what happens when there is an efficient government, and this is what happens when there is an inefficient government,” he said. 

Opposition lacks vision to provide alternative

The need for a healthy opposition becomes even more crucial in these times when the government holds an overwhelming majority in the Parliament, where Bills are passed with little or almost no debate or discussion.

Several political scientists are of the view that Indian politics has gone back to the days of single-party dominance, with the BJP replacing the Congress. 

So, who stands responsible for placing India’s democracy in a position where it is now? Mukhopadhyay sees a splintered opposition responsible for the increasing power of the current dispensation. “The index of the opposition unity is at an all-time low. After May, it appeared that the index of opposition unity is going to rise, but once again they have shown us that they are fighting among themselves; the Congress is fighting among itself, it is fighting with Samajwadi Party and also at loggerheads with the BSP and Aam Aadmi Party.”

The Opposition doesn’t have a vision to provide an alternative to the issues. “What is actually required at this stage is for all opposition parties to go back to the inverse anti-Congressism which used to be there at some point. You had all kinds of completely ideological adversaries like Ram Manohar Lohia and Deendayal Upadhyay, forging alliance to defeat the Congress. Likewise, they need to put up an anti-BJP front in order to minimise the division of the anti-BJP votes,” he says.

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